The apostle Paul was definitely a man of grit and grace. He had the grit to endure insurmountable odds and he also had the grace to face his worst enemies with a heart that still ached for their eternal salvation. Do you ever stop and wonder where all of Paul’s grit and grace came from?
What was it specifically that gave Paul the strength to endure all the opposition that came at him? And what was it specifically that gave him the grace to continue loving other people even though he was rejected so often?
I am sure you can identify with the apostle Paul a little bit in this week’s passage. On one hand, as he left Athens and settled in Corinth, he experienced an awesome move of God as many people came to faith through his preaching. But on the other hand, he also experienced the fear and anxiety that any of us would feel when a group of people begins to seek our destruction. You know what this is like right; to see God doing miraculous things in your life and to also experience rejection and maybe even severe persecution from those whom you have tried to love for so long?
Maybe you have experienced something like this: You begin following Jesus, or maybe even after years of following Jesus, you experience a powerful move of God in your life – he sets you free from some kind of sinful pattern or you finally come to a place where you understand his deep love and faithfulness towards you or maybe you even experience the joy of seeing a longtime friend begin to follow Jesus too – and then right in the middle of that joy-filled experience, your spouse or your child or another longtime friend or a family member or a coworker decides to oppose you; they turn on you, they betray you, they reject you, they deceive you.
Experiences like this can knock the wind out of you and leave you sitting in the corner wondering if it is even worth trying to move forward any longer. Where you do you find the grit that the apostle Paul had to continue moving forward? Where do you find the grace to face the opposition, undaunted in your resolve to follow Jesus and to make him known? I think the answer to those questions is at the heart of the text in front of us today. Let us look at the story in front of us and see where Paul found his grit and his grace.
1After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, 3and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. 4And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. 5When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. 6And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 7And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshipper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. 8Crispus, ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. 9And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. 12But when Gallio was proconsul of Achia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, 13saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” 14But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. 15But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” 16And he drove them from the tribunal. 17And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this. 18After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow. 19And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined. 21But on taking leave of them he said, “I will return to you if God wills,” and he set sail from Ephesus. 22When he had landed at Caesarea; he went up and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch. 23After spending some time there, he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening the disciples.
#1: PAUL ARRIVES IN CORINTH (VV. 1 – 4)
You may remember back in chapter 17, the apostle Paul has just ministered in the city of Athens where the net result of his labor was that some people mocked his message, others procrastinated and said they would listen to him some other time, and some people actually listened to him and began following Jesus (17:32 – 34). Then, Paul leaves Athens without much turmoil (which is interesting, given the amount of times he was chased out of town bloody and bruised from his commitment to the gospel) and he arrives in the town of Corinth (where he plants a church that we get 1st and 2nd Corinthians from) and he hooks up with a power couple named Aquila and Priscilla, and the three of them launch a tent making business to pay the bills while Paul preaches the gospel every week in the local synagogue.
The apostle Paul was not a religious charlatan like we see all over our TV screens today – fake ministers begging for your money so they can buy a third or fourth jet or put gold plated toilets in their private restrooms – no, Paul was willing to supplement his income with a part time gig, making tents, even though he obviously believed that ministers should make a good wage to preach the gospel (1 Tim. 5:17 – 18). At the end of the day, the apostle Paul did not allow a shortage of funding to infringe on his calling to preach the gospel. The moral of the story here is that a shortage of funding should never be an excuse for not doing the ministry of gospel proclamation.
#2: PAUL SHIFTS HIS FOCUS TO THE GENTILES (VV. 5 – 11)
As Paul is getting busy with Aquila and Priscilla, making tents and preaching the gospel, his buddies, Silas and Timothy, show up from Macedonia, just in time for the Jews to lose their patience with Paul and turn on him in opposition. Paul responds to their rejection by shaking the dust off his garments, proclaiming his innocence in their coming judgment, and then planting himself right next door to continue preaching the gospel.
The result of all this is that many people begin following Jesus, including the leader of the synagogue that just rejected the apostle Paul’s message. Amidst the hustle and bustle, God shows up one night and calms Paul’s fears by instructing him not to be afraid, to keep on preaching, to trust that God was with him, to trust that no harm would come to him, and to believe that tons of fruit would result from his ministry. Ultimately, this encounter with God gave Paul the resilience to keep on keeping on despite his past experiences as well as his current fears, and once again, the net result is another year and a half of fruitful ministry; preaching the gospel and seeing souls saved as they surrendered to Jesus.
The moral of the story here is that rejection and opposition should never be the reason we stop proclaiming the gospel. God will reject those who reject the gospel, but he will also raise up others to hear the gospel and to believe in Jesus, just as he does all throughout the scriptures.
#3: THE ENEMY ATTACKS UNSUCCESSFULLY (VV. 12 – 23)
Attacks from the enemy are inevitable. As soon as you proclaim to trust in Jesus, the enemy will hunt you down night and day; temptation will abound for sure but most often, the enemy will use other humans as his pawns to attack you so that you will falter in your pursuit of Jesus and your mission to make him known.
In Corinth, after Paul and his crew had been there for a few years and were seeing a lot of fruit from their ministry, the Jews rallied against Paul and brought him and some of the new believers in front of the city officials to get the local authorities to make them stop preaching the gospel. When the city officials refused to hear the case and drove the Jews out of the room, they beat the snot out of the leader of the synagogue who had surrendered to Jesus, while the city officials ignored everything that was happening.
After a few more days, Paul left Corinth after encouraging the believers and the story basically ends with him traveling from place to place strengthening the believers who had come to faith previously in the other churches that Paul had planted. As I said earlier, Paul was a man of grit and grace. He had the moxy to never back down from his assignment to know Jesus and to make him known. Even though he faced opposition nearly everywhere he went and eventually gave his life for the sake of the gospel, he never stopped enduring the opposition and he never stopped loving the people that God put in his pathway. How did Paul do this? Where did the grit come from? Where did he find the grace to love the way he did?
Where do we turn for the strength to endure and the grace to continue loving people well? Sometimes we look to our friends, or self-help books, or we use escape mechanisms, or we just simply try to pull up our bootstraps in our own strength. I am sure you have noticed that these strategies usually do not sustain us for the long haul. This is why the heart of the text is so important for us today!
#4: THE HEART OF THE STORY (VV. 7 – 11)
At the center of this story, Paul experiences God’s presence in a really profound way when God shows up in the middle of the night and speaks to him. I am absolutely convinced that we do not lean into our relationship with God to the extent that we actually hear from him. Relationships take time and effort and investment. And a relationship with an invisible God that requires much time spent reading His Word and seeking his presence in prayer, silence, and solitude, oftentimes seems to be too much to ask of believers in a culture that is constantly wired into visually stimulating media.
How often do you think you have missed out on hearing a word from God because you have not spent the time necessary to actually hear from him? Could it be, that you and I struggle with possessing the grit and the grace to endure and to love others well, because we have not heard the voice of God in so long?
The Apostle Paul seems to be a man who sought the presence of God often, especially in the darkest of times. How else could he know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was the only one who stood with him during his trials in Rome, according to 2 Timothy 4:16 – 18? Verses 7 – 11 of our current passage, seem to confirm that Paul was in the regular habit of seeking God and hearing from him. And once he heard from God, he was filled with the grit to endure and the grace to keep on loving really well.
What do you see in verses 7 – 11 of our text? It seems to me that ministry was going really good at this point in the story. The Jews had rejected the message of the gospel, so Paul had shaken the dust off his feet at them and set up next door where a whole bunch of people were responding positively to the gospel. I am certain that these events caused much joy for the apostle Paul.
But some scholars note that this is precisely where the apostle Paul probably began feeling the most fearful, because in the past, when the gospel began to take root among a new group of believers (a point of interest here regarding the new believers in Corinth, is that these new believers were being saved out of a culture that worshipped a so-called sex-goddess as thousands of prostitutes walked the streets at night; Corinth was a very dark place for the gospel to take root in), and in Paul’s mind, I am certain that he could foresee that the enemy of the gospel would double his efforts in opposition to the gospel and especially to the messenger of the gospel.2
So, what does Paul do? I believe he sought the Lord and the Lord showed up just as he always does, and in God’s grace, he gave the messenger of the gospel a message that would continue to sustain him personally in the days ahead. What were the contents of that message that I believe are at the heart of this story today?
In verses 9 – 10, God simply tells the apostle Paul that he should not be afraid, that he should continue preaching the gospel, because God was with him, therefore no one would be able to injure him, and that there were many in this city that would eventually belong to God – there would be much fruit from Paul’s faithful labor in the city of Corinth.
If you boil all of this down, it sounds like this: Do not fear, keep speaking the gospel, God is with you, you will not be eternally injured, and there will be fruit from your ministry. I think that this encounter with God is what gave Paul the grit and the grace to continue enduring opposition and to continue loving others well. This is the reason that the story ends with Paul strengthening other new believers throughout the region.
In conclusion, I do not know where you are needing an extra dose of grit to endure opposition or an extra dose of grace to love others, but I do know that you and I need to hear the voice of God speaking to us on the regular.
Just think back over the last few days, weeks or months.
- How often did you need to hear God telling you not to be afraid?
- How often did you need to hear God encouraging you to keep speaking the truth of the gospel gently and winsomely to someone?
- How often did you need to be reminded that if you have trusted in Jesus, then God is with you and will be with you wherever you go?
- How often did you need to be reminded that this life is a small breathe of air in light of eternity and that there is nothing that can harm you this side of heaven that will stick with you in eternity; that you will not be eternally injured?
- How often did you need to be reminded that your investment of time, talent, and treasure does not come close to the suffering of Jesus at the cross and that because of that bloody cross, and because of the empty tomb, and because of his promise of heaven, there will be fruit from your investment?
The heart of this message is God’s words to the apostle Paul in a season where I think he needed the grit to endure and the grace to keep on loving others well. The heart of this message is a message from the Living God to one – if not all his children. And the heart of that message is simply this: Do not Fear, Keep Speaking the Gospel, God is With You, You Will Not Be Eternally Injured, and There Will Be Fruit From Your Ministry. – Amen!
1 Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this paper are to the English Standard Version Bible, The New Classic Reference Edition (ESV) (Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, 2001).
2 Kent, Hughes, Acts: The Church Afire, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1996), 239 – 244.